TEDxUW cover photo

Directing the brand behind 700 curious minds

TEDxUW - Design Lead - Fall 2018

Design lead on a team with two graphic designers, working alongside a content strategist and UX developer.

Figma, Sketch, Principle

Through directing the brand for the University of Waterloo's official TEDx conference, we gained 24K+ unique social media impressions, a 200% increase in social media followers, 1K+ mailing list subscriptions, and 700+ attendees.

TED's motto is "Ideas worth spreading", and The University of Waterloo's motto is "Ideas start here" - both groups emphasizing the importance of sharing thoughts and insights. But change doesn't end at the idea, it's what you do with that idea that matters, which is why this year's conference theme for TEDxUW is...

Making Waves

Waves come in all forms: water waves, radio waves, sound waves, even sporting event audience waves. What they all have in common is that they all create a disturbance in the medium, and the ripple carries on, and on, and on. We hoped that by choosing this theme, we would highlight those in the community that do just that - make waves and change their community.


But before moving into how the brand might look, we wanted to determine how the brand should feel. Asking my team members and directors important questions like "Who are our attendees?" and "Why should they want to be at TEDxUW 2018?", I created a set of personality sliders that would drive the decisions behind the brand. I then plotted down where The University of Waterloo voice and the TED voice lies on the scale, and took a look at where things aligned.

Personality Sliders

The University of Waterloo, as a younger educational institution driven by innovation, has the reputation of being forward-thinking and disruptive, while TED, an intellectually provoking set of events inspires change and action through a sense of elitism and maturity. For TEDxUW, this means combining the two traits, while making sure we appeal to both the younger student population, as well as the local professional network.

Brand Principles

In order to gain consistency and alignment on how TEDxUW is promoted and experienced throughout the community, as well as maintain a level of recognition, we landed on a set of components that would be used throughout and leading up to the event.

The principles above of dynamic, bold, and poised guided our visual treatments to have a contrasting colour palette and minimalist, trendy illustration accents, combined with a clean, classic typeface and layout.


TEDxUW has two logos, our TEDx official logo, and our branded logo:

TEDxUW offical logo Branded logo

Though our TEDxUW official logo stays the same, this year we got to reveal a theme specific logo to represent what Making Waves means to us. This logo is used on all print and digital media that relates to this year's conference, as well as appearing on any swag that our attendees scored during the day of.

We also used our logo as an opportunity to align with our principle of being dynamic. As you can see, the gradual change of a flat line to a sinusoidal wave at the top of the "X" reflects that we are here to make change and make waves. Additionally, by taking the meaning of dynamic literally, I created subtle yet delightful animations for our social media platforms where video and gif formats were supported.

An animated banner can be viewed on our Facebook event here:

Style Guide

In order to guide other team members to create assets that were consistent to the brand direction determined, I put together a style guide in a shared Figma file to best communicate how the visual identity should be carried.

This shared file allowed other members of the organizing team to independently produce visually consistent assets for whatever reason. Instead of the design team having to chime in at every instagram post, sponsor contact, and poster on campus, this style guide helped empower each and every team member to be confident in the assets they were producing, and nearly doubled the productivity of the design team - by not only alleviating our need to produce everything, but by also giving us alignment during more creative explorations.

TEDxUW colour palette TEDxuW colour chart

Our colour palette is an amalgamation between the classic colours of the TED conference, combined with our choices of blue, navy, and sky to reflect the dynamic and bold principles. Finding the balance between the two contrasting combinations is what sets TEDxUW apart from other TEDx conferences. By injecting navy into the primary palette of black and white, we are able to show our uniqueness without compromising on our poise.

TEDxUW typeface

Our typographic voice uses Avenir Next for clean headers, a Helvetica body to surface our seriousness, while leveraging the boldness of Futura in our illustrative and dynamic display titles. This allows for space to be creative in how we showcase our narrative and stories, but still maintain clarity when paragraphs upon paragraphs are needed.

Through outlining rules for how the typeface and colour palette is used throughout the event, we were able to generate recognizability on social media platforms by reaching 3.8K users on Facebook, 2.4K Twitter followers, and over 200 Instagram page viewers per week - eventually doubling our social media following, and attracting over 700 attendees to the event. Not only do our numbers reflect our outreach, we also gained a very diverse group of attendees with students and professors from every faculty attending the day's event.

Website Design

Along with directing the visual identity, I also got to be a big part of designing the website - staying true to our typographic voice and colour palette. I worked with Derrek Chow, our Web and UX Manager to shape our corner of the internet.

Website screenshot Website screenshot Website screenshot

Drawing from the style guide, we pulled in accents such as the translucent wave to keep the eye drawn to the webpage when blocks of text are used. Additionally, we added a colour treatment to the photos to enhance key images, or dull down visual stimuli when it became too busy.

To stay within accessibility and interaction guidelines, we made the decision to keep only black and white as the primary background colours - pulling in our secondary and accent shades through call to action buttons, subtle illustrations, display headings, and elements to communicate a link's active state.

Through cycles of ideation, iteration, and handoff, we sat side by side to determine the best way to architect the information that was needed as well as leveraging the library of digital media to tell the story behind TEDxUW. We defined the content and how it is structured while still abiding by TEDx website rules - and found that sweet spot between underwhelming and overwhelming.

Content and Copy

Identity is not only made up of visual assets, it is also how the brand speaks. I worked with Akanksha Sharma, our Content Manager to make sure that our voice aligned with our brand principles: dynamic, bold, and poised.

Though we landed on elements of using real life examples of waves as metaphors in order to be bold with our language, we also wanted to make sure TEDxUW was taken seriously, which meant we needed to be concrete with our narrative. To achieve this, our content is build upon using an active voice in the present tense. The way that we describe ourselves is succinct, and inspiring - drawing from previous years' stories as well as the experiences of our keynote speakers.

Final Examples

Below, you can find examples of work that were made into production for marketing assets such as social media posts, as well as day-of material like name tags, pamphlets, and pull up banners.

Nametag examples Social Media post examples Pamphlet examples Countdown poster examples

Closing Thoughts

Now that TEDxUW has come to a close, I reflect on this experience as an opportunity to learn the amount of work required behind executing a consistent brand voice, as well as the level of collaboration and communication needed to ensure a team is aligned.

As a design lead, I learned about how to efficiently shield my team, give constructive feedback, and be straightforward with expectations. I got the experience of delegating tasks in order to best leverage each member's skills and interests - and when nobody was up to do it, I learned how to scrape up the remaining pieces to make sure our end product was packaged up and delivered neatly. Being a lead does not only include guiding and mentoring designers with tools, guidelines, and best practices, but it is also watching everyone gain confidence, grow, and improve in their role, including myself!